How well are we social distancing? This company gives Minnesota an A, while North Dakota gets a B

Neighbors iPhone
Neighbors, an app designed to help citizens throughout the county stay informed about crime and safety concerns in their area is now being utilized by Crow Wing County. Submitted Photo

FARGO — Smartphones across the country are offering clues of whether people are heeding calls to stay home and avoid gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

A New York-based company called Unacast examined cellphone GPS location data from each county and state to see whether people are traveling less . Minnesota earned an A, and the Dakotas both got a B for how well residents have adjusted their behavior for the sake of public health.

In its report card, the company assigned grades to counties and states based on how much residents recently changed their movements compared to what's normal for a given day.

In Minnesota, the company found there was a 46% drop in the average distance residents traveled, which made it one of the top states in the nation. Alaska and Nevada were the top two states, each with a score over minus 50%.

Northwest Minnesota helped the lead way in the state with almost every county in the area scoring an A, with Clay County among those with a 50% reduction in movement. Eleven other counties in the region also had an A, including Becker County with a 40% drop in movement. However, Otter Tail County had only a 17% drop, and received a D.


Only three Minnesota counties got an F, and one wasn't too far away in Traverse County in the far western part of the state along the South Dakota border where travel was up 87%, the highest in the state. Minnesota's other two F's were in Lake of the Woods and Cook counties.

In North Dakota, movement was down 33% statewide.

The state's most populous county, Cass County, matched the state grade with a B, with average distance traveled down 31%.

Some rural counties dragged down North Dakota's overall state ranking, with eight receiving an F grade. The only county with an F in eastern North Dakota was Steele County, with a 27% increase in travel.

Others with an F grade were Billings, Golden Valley and Slope counties in the Badlands area; Wells, Kidder and Emmons counties in the central part of the state; and Burke County in the far northwest part of the state.

South Dakota saw a 31% drop in average distance traveled with 13 rural counties receiving an F. The state's most populous county — Minnehaha, which includes the city of Sioux Falls — received an A with movement down 40%.

Unacast's location data comes from apps that tens of millions of Americans have installed on their phones or through phone location services, which the company normally analyzes for retailers, real estate firms and marketers, similar to Google and its analytics.

The Washington Post reported last week that the U.S. government is in talks with Facebook, Google and other tech companies about using anonymous location data to combat the coronavirus, including tracking whether people are keeping safe distances from one another. The data wouldn't be held in a federal database; it would be managed by industry and health officials, who could query it for research.


As a public service, we've opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. 701-451-5665
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